For the past couple of months, I've been taking part in the Pitch to Publication contest as an editor. I was invited as one of 25 editors, all of whom received over 100 queries from writers. We each had to choose one writer to work with, preparing their manuscript to showcase to literary agents. It's been fun and challenging to be on the other side of the fence. Fun, because I got to read some truly awesome material from writers who I'm sure will be agented and on the shelves soon! And challenging, because there were so many great entries, it was incredibly hard to narrow 110 queries down to 10 to request partials from, and then to 3 for my final picks. I have infinite admiration for agents and acquisitions editors who do this every day!
I wanted to take more notes and I wish I'd had time to give more detailed feedback to all the entries, but I had 70+ emails on the first day, plus regular client emails and author stuff, and I was playing catch-up from that point on! Still, I did keep a tally of why I passed on some entries, so I thought it might be helpful to share some stats.
15 entries: too high/low word count for the category. (Rough guide: 30K-60K for MG; 55K-90K for YA; 70-100K for adult, with 100K being the maximum limit for a debut novel. There are exceptions, and fantasy can be a little higher, but it's best to stay within those boundaries.)
3 entries: query was too confusing, and pages didn't redeem it. (Tip: get someone to read your query who hasn't read the manuscript.)
17 entries: plot not sufficiently original, and voice/character/writing not strong enough to make up for it. A strong voice can save an overdone premise, but some plots have been done so many times that it takes something truly unique to breathe fresh life into it. (I'm planning a post on tropes at some point in the next few months!)
3 entries: voice undeveloped. This overlaps with some of the other things on my list, but usually, it's a sign of inexperience. It takes time, and sometimes more than one manuscript, to really bring out your own unique voice. (Personal anecdote: my first novel was rejected for this reason, and it took an outside opinion from an editorial professional for me to realise I needed to work on developing my own unique narrative voice.)
31 entries: writing quality not quite strong enough. This is a difficult one, because it ranges from "promising" to "almost there". As we only have a month to prepare the entries for the agent round, I had to focus on entries close to being agent-ready. All the entries showed a lot of promise!
18 entries: just not for me. And this is where subjectivity comes in! These were entries that just didn't mesh with me as a reader, and I felt another editor would be a better fit. For instance, romance-centric plots aren't usually in my wheelhouse. As a reader and editor, I'm not completely averse to storylines that are all about the romance, especially as I used to edit and evaluate romance manuscripts for Entangled. But I could only pick one project, so I wanted it to be something I loved enough to work on for a month in addition to regular client work.
5 entries: really, really close. These entries were high-quality, but I only had the time to request materials from 10 participants. This falls into the category of rejections that say "I just didn't love it enough". (I know. :( I've been there. I have an entire email folder of similar rejections. But the time constraints made it impossible to request everything I wanted to!) So I requested materials from 10 entrants. I'm going to be intentionally vague here, since there was a smaller number, but I chose a mix of MG, YA and adult.
Overall, the quality of the entries was extremely high. I specified in my editor post on Samantha's blog that I wanted speculative fiction in all categories, and almost all the entries I received were the right genre for me and formatted correctly. That meant I had to be super-picky, particularly about things like voice and originality. Some of the entries I rejected were requested by other editors, which proves subjectivity really matters in contests when the judges have a limited number of choices. It's certainly not a reflection on the quality of your work! (The same goes for other contests, like Pitch Wars.) I've been on the other side of the fence as a querying writer, so it was really interesting to get this perspective. I'm sure we'll be seeing loads of success stories, and remember that contests are just one way to landing an agent. :)